Venice comprises 118 islands connected by 400 bridges. For ten centuries (until conquered by Napoleon) Venice was a republic with a figurehead Doge (Duke) elected by the Senate. Napoleon gave Venice to the Austrians and Venice then became part of the Unified Italy in 1866.
We said farewell to our coach and water-taxied into the city. After lunch we toured the Doge's Palace then checked in to our hotel - the Gritti Palace on the Grand Canal, two 'blocks' from St Mark's square.
In the evening we had an exclusive after-hours tour of St Mark's Basilica. It was pretty special. We were the only tourists in the church and they turned on the lights for us and our guides showed us around pretty much everywhere.
Piazza San MarcoWith Basilica di San Marco at the far side. The bell tower or Campanile was first built in the 9th century. It was added to and modified up until the 16th century when it reached a height of nearly 100m. In 1902 the campanile collapsed entirely and it was rebuilt to the exact same design shortly after.
Inside the Bridge of SighsThe Bridge of Sighs is a small bridge that connects the Doge's Palace with a prison across the canal. So named by Lord Byron in the 18th century, it was supposed that prisoners being taken from the palace interrogation rooms to their cell in the prison, would sigh at their last view of Venice. It is an enclosed, two-way divided bridge.
Bridge of Sighs windowLooking south towards the Lagoon. The bridge is crowded with tourists photographing the BoS.
Byzantine Basilica di San MarcoVenice was a secular republic. The Papacy had little influence and the culture was oriented towards the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, based in Constantinople. The church decorations were almost exclusively mosaic - glass tiles with extensive gold leaf. There is an estimated 6 tonnes of gold on the 8,000 sqm of tiles.
Behind the altarThis priceless altar piece made of gold and 2,000 precious gems was commissioned by two early Doges. It is mounted on a swivel and on special occasions it is turned around to face the congregation. The Venetians successfully hid it from their French conquerors, otherwise it would now be in the Louvre!
Basilica CryptThe Murano glass cross marks where the tomb of St Mark was situated, until regular flooding prompted its move upstairs to near the altar.